Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Have You Ever Lost A Family Member?

Have you ever lost a family member?  Regardless of whether you expected it or it came as a complete shock, losing someone is never an easy thing to deal with.  I know.  I've been there.  On several occasions I've had family members that I love very dearly pass away.  They were here one moment and gone the next.

Last week I awakened to the headlines that a group of Egyptian Christians were killed.  They were on their way to a prayer meeting when they were attacked.  Men, women, and children all died because they believe in Jesus.  I sat there staring at that headline and I hurt inside.  I thought to myself how often I read of tragedies like that and waste little time thinking about it.  Most of the time, I feel sad for a few moments but hey, life goes on.  I've got things to do, people to see.  So, I just dive into the everyday madness and go on with life.

This day, however it was different.  I thought to myself, as believers, these are family members.  Nevermind, the theological or doctrinal differences, these are fellow followers of Christ who were murdered because they believe in the same Jesus that I do.  There is a bond that we should have because we've all been adopted into the same family.  On this particular day, I couldn't just move on with life.  As a matter of fact, much of what my life is filled with disgusted me in that moment.  Things I value, things I hold as important, things I worry or stress about, seemed to pale in comparison to just being alive. I woke up on that day not even considering being hated so much for my faith that I would be killed for it.  I woke up on that day, not at all worried about the possibility of my kids growing up without their dad or my wife living without her totally amazing, hunk of a husband.  No, I woke up complaining about the aches in my back.  I awakened concerned about the bills I have to pay, the yard I need to mow, my ever increasing to-do list, and how hot it was going to be.

Somehow my problems didn't matter for the next few minutes.  As I read the story, I was reminded of how good my life is.  I was reminded that I can preach something on Sunday morning and not worry about my head still being attached on Monday.  I was reminded that the petty problems I face in a given day can't compare to the horrors that believers face all over this world.  I was reminded that death is not stalking me every waking moment because of my faith.  I was reminded how much I take my freedom for granted.  And I was reminded how disconnected I can become to the plight of my fellow believers throughout the world.

I watched over the course of the next few days as some posted this story as a political statement.  I thought to myself how that cheapens the real story here.  These murdered Christians didn't set out to give us fuel for some pathetic political debate.  They weren't trying to make the headlines on that particular day.  They spent their lives not ashamed of the Jesus they served even though it meant risking their very lives.  They woke up on that day, no different than any other.  They weren't trying to be martyrs, heroes, or famous.  They were determined to live; to truly live.  To live the kind of life, God designed for us to live. They did not need the comforts we have in America to live for Christ.  They did not need a smokin' worship band, cushioned seats, a/c, and a great preacher in order to show up to worship the God they served.  The very fact that they were associated with Christ brought the reality that tomorrow was not promised to them.  Yet, they served Him anyway.  They woke up on that day, not ashamed of Jesus and they would lay down their lives because it.  I'm thinking the headlines should be less about the tragedy of their death and more about their incredible faith and how they lived it day in and day out.

I know that I'll go on with life.  Here, in America, we all will.  We'll order our next $3.00 latte, kick back and watch the next big movie to come out, and argue about who is the greatest basketball player to ever play the game.  We'll argue about politics, complain about the weather, and be offended by something petty in church. And, on the other side of the world, there will be a believer who will not make it through the day because somebody hates them so much because they are a member of our family. I pray that in our "getting back" to life, we will not get back to life as normal.  I'm praying that we'll stop and think about what we've got and how great we've got it.  I'm praying that we'll complain a little less, be thankful a great deal more, and take advantage of the freedom we've been afforded.  But most of all, I'm praying that we'll be more aware of our family members who are being persecuted daily.  

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

If God Can Use A Stick...

My youngest son collects sticks.  Not, little bitty twigs, but big sticks.  Everywhere I look, there seems to be a bundle of Josiah's sticks.  While I often see nothing more than a bundle of sticks that I want to get out of my way, Josiah sees a spear, or a bow and arrow, or a machine gun, or some other kind of weapon.  He never wants to throw any of them away because each and every one of them has the potential to be used for something.  So, I'm left to navigate around his collection of sticks.

Now, perhaps you have never really thought about sticks very much.  But a stick is nothing more than a branch that has broken off of a tree.  It is dead.  It is no longer connected to its source of life, so it is dead.  While it may still be green for a short period of time, it will not remain that way for long.  it has no life flowing through it anymore.  It cannot grow or produce more branches.  It is an inanimate object.

I say all of that because I want you to get a sense of the lowly, worthless state of a stick.  There isn't much you can use them for.  Perhaps, if it is large enough, one could use it as a walking stick or it could be fashioned into some type of primitive tool.  Most of us would simply burn them or put them out for the trash collectors to pick up.  Unless you are like my son, these common everyday sticks that you find laying around in your yard are pretty much worthless.

As lowly and worthless as a stick may be, there is an account in Scripture where God uses a stick to do mighty things.  Moses is in the desert wilderness when He has an encounter with God.  He is tending sheep when he sees a burning bush.  This, of course, gets his attention and he goes to take a closer look.  It is here that Moses encounters God.  In this encounter, God shares with Moses his desire to send him to Egypt to bring God's people out of slavery.  Moses is a bit hesitant, feeling completely incapable of the job God is asking him to do.  Following is a short bit of the conversation between the two ...

"Then Moses answered and said, “But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice; suppose they say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’”So the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” (Exodus 4:1-2  NKJV)

Moses sees a bit of a dilemma.  He is being asked by God to go to probably the most powerful man in the world at that time and tell him to "Let God's people go!"  Not only does he need Pharaoh to believe him, he needs God's people to believe him.  Put yourself in Moses' shoes for a second.  He is in the wilderness because he is a fugitive on the run.  Forty years prior, he killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave.  As a result, Moses runs for his life fearing the wrath of Pharaoh.  Now, God wants this fugitive to return to Egypt, a powerful nation, and demand that Pharaoh release all the Hebrew slaves.  No wonder Moses is a little hesitant!  Moses poses a question to God that I think every one of us would ask - "But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice?"

I don't know about you, but I am confident that I would want all the details laid out for me.  I would be asking God the same thing.  I would be asking God, "Ummm ... so, do we have a plan just in case they laugh and mock at me when I try to convince them that I saw a burning bush in the desert and God spoke to me out of the burning bush?"  "We've got a plan when I show up to confront the Egyptian Empire without an army, right?"

God reveals to Moses part of his plan.  "What is that in your hand?"  Moses says, "A rod."  Moses has a stick!  Not machine guns, not chariots, not armored tanks, not a massive army.  Moses has a stick! He's got a simple tool used in taking care of sheep.  It's not a magic stick.  It is a dead piece of a tree.  There is absolutely nothing special about the stick.  It is an ordinary stick.  Moses is going to confront the leader of a powerful nation armed with a stick.  Pharaoh has a massive army and Moses has a stick.

 If you'll read the entire account in Exodus, you'll discover that this stick would be used to do miraculous things.  It turned into a serpent and ate Pharaoh's serpents.  It was used to strike the river and turn the water into blood.  God used it to bring the plague of frogs, and hail, and other plagues on Egypt. When Moses and the children of Israel were standing at the Red Sea and Pharaoh's army was coming to kill them, God instructed Moses to stretch it over the Red Sea.  That resulted in the Red Sea splitting, providing God's people with a way of escape while providing the Egyptian soldiers with a watery grave.

God used a simple, ordinary stick.  Let me be clear.  There was nothing extraordinary about the stick.  God does not need something extraordinary, for He is the One who is extraordinary.  The miracle worker wasn't a magic wand.  The Miracle Worker was an all powerful God.  God was not impressed, nor did He shrink in fear when it came to this mighty Pharaoh and his military might.  God did not need an army to deliver His people.  He used an insecure fugitive with a speech problem, who came armed with only a stick.  God is in the habit of taking the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.  He takes the weak things of the world to display His strength.

When you look in the mirror, if what you see staring back at you is just an ordinary man or woman, then you are perfect for the Master's use!  God's not searching high and low for those who believe they are all that.  He is looking for those who are humble before Him and available for His use. He is looking for those who will simply say, "I may not be much, but here I am, send me." It is in willing vessels such as these that God will work mightily.  It is through the ordinary that God does the extraordinary.

At some point today, I will see a bundle of my son Josiah's sticks.  And while at first glance, they seem only good for the trash pile, I can't help but think that at one time in history, God used an ordinary stick much like one of Josiah's to bring an entire nation of people to freedom.  I'm convinced if God can use a lousy, worthless stick to accomplish something like that, then certainly He can use me.  To all the ordinary people out there - if God can empower a dead, dry, lifeless, stick what extraordinary things can he do through you?

For more on how God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary, watch "Out of the Ordinary - Part One" below:

You can also join us live on Facebook, this Sunday at 10:30am.

If you live in or near Montgomery, TX, we would love to have you join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30.  Westlake Fellowship is located at 19786 Suite 120, Hwy 105 in Montgomery.  (beside Magnolia Diner)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

I Wish We Could Send All The Muslims Back Home

"I wish we could send all the Muslims back home."  I know that is a really bold statement but don't judge me, just yet.  Some of you are about to unfriend me, while others are about to befriend me.  So, regardless of where you stand on an issue like this, just don't be so quick to cast judgment.  I know you want to, but hear me out before you do. I was sitting in a room listening to a conversation between several individuals when I heard this statement blurted out.  That's correct, I didn't say it.  Those who know me well, know that I would never say something like that.  This statement came at the tail end of a conversation that I had been quietly listening to on the topic of our country and religion.  The gist of the conversation was about our country and how it had been founded on Christian tenets.  Then from out of nowhere came this statement from a lady well up in years. As she continued it was easy to see that her statement was the result of a heart that had been tainted by life's experiences.

I get it.  I really do.  I understand how someone can despise a person or people group.  No, I didn't say I agree with it, but I do understand.  There is a constant battle that each of us finds ourselves in. It's an ongoing challenge to love those we do not understand, those we disagree with, and those who oppose us.  None of us are immune to this ongoing challenge.  While our culture preaches a concept of tolerance, the reality is that most only tolerate those who tolerate them.  For instance, there a many who, like this lady in this conversation, have no tolerance when it comes to this very same people group.  On the other hand, there are those who do not tolerate this lady or those who think like her.  So, this politically correct idea of tolerance really just allows us to justify our prejudices while condemning others.  Besides, is tolerating someone truly loving them?  I don't think so.  For instance, I tolerate taxes but I sure don't love them.

The way I see it, there will probably be a few different responses to reading the title of this BLOG.  There will be those who read it and immediately cast judgment without bothering to dig a bit deeper to hear the real truth.  They'll move on assuming that one statement is enough with which to judge the entirety of my heart even though I never truly made that statement.  Then there will be those who will immediately judge me and will read on in order to find more fuel with which to condemn me. Still, others will read the title and be happy to think they've found someone with whom they can agree.  They'll read on convinced they've found justification for their disdain of a people group, since a "man of God," agrees with their position.  Then there will be those who really know me who know there has to be some type of twist because I would never hold that position.

Although we were all taught at a young age to not judge a book by its cover, our culture is one that does just that.  We are quick to pass judgment.  We hear a sound bite, read an opinionated editorial, or hear something through the "grapevine" and immediately we make up our mind regarding an individual.  We are quick to condemn without hearing the whole story.  We judge the book by the cover without taking the time to read through all the pages.

As I sat there listening to this conversation on this day, I said nothing.  I just listened.  As I listened I discovered some things I could have never discovered had I been quick to interject.  I discovered that the heart that was spewing this hatred was one that was wounded.  A heart that was full of fear.  The miles that this one had journeyed had bumps along the way that my journey did not. While I did not agree with what she said, I understood where she was coming from.  I understood where she was coming from because I cared enough to want to know where she was coming from.

I'm a much better talker than I am a listener.  Sometimes it is extremely hard for me to keep my mouth shut. My first impulse on this day was to say something.  To jump into preacher mode and put people in their place.  Condemning someone's behavior is so much easier than helping them find healing for their heart and that's why our default is to condemn.  Leading people toward freedom and healing requires so much more from us than preaching or standing on a soapbox.  In order to rescue us, our Heavenly Father didn't stand at arm's length from us and spew condemnation.  Scripture tells us that, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17).  God sent His Son into our world for the purpose of rescuing us.  He cared enough to come into our world!  He cared enough to understand the depth of our brokenness and rather than condemn us, He reached out to rescue us.  He gave us the answer, not a lecture. Our salvation was not secured by someone telling us how messed up we were but by someone who dove into the middle of our mess determined to pull us out of it.

While I did not make the statement that this lady did, I can assure you that judgment and condemnation has proceeded from my mouth more times than I care to admit.  As a matter of fact, it took everything within me on that day to put a lid on condemning words that wanted to make their way across my lips.  I'm desperately trying to get this "loving my neighbor" thing down.  I'm trying to navigate through our culture determined to love those who are difficult for me to love.  Will you join me?  In the same way, that God sent His Son into the world, Jesus sent His followers into the world.  If Jesus wasn't sent into the world to condemn it, then I'm thinking neither were we.

For more on loving those you struggle to love, you can get a copy of my e-book: Yep, Even That One - a believer's guide to loving your neighbor.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

We Need To Get Together

"We need to get together."  How many times have you said that to someone and you never seem to get together?  Perhaps your intentions truly are to get together but life is so busy it just never happens.  Then, you see them again a few weeks later and say the same thing but you know when you say it that chances are this time it will be no different.

I do this all the time.  It's not that I don't want to make it happen, it's just that there are so many things screaming for my attention and most of my time is spent responding to those screams.  Rarely do I have time to sit and do nothing.  My schedule is as full as a freeway in Houston during rush hour.  There is little time to fit something extra in.  As a result, if I don't make time for someone or something, it's not likely I'll be able to squeeze them in somewhere.  I rarely do life on the fly or take a spontaneous approach when it comes to my day to day living.  If I am going to do something specific, or get together with someone, I have to plan it.  I have to get out my calendar and pencil it in.  I've learned in life that just having the desire to do something, rarely ensures that it happens.  However, If I'll set a time and place for it, then it's more likely to happen.

Take me and my wife, Lori, for example.  I love spending time with her.  In fact, I love spending time with her more than anyone else.  Yet weeks can go by without us having a date if we aren't careful.  The person I love to spend time with more than anyone can actually become neglected if I am not intentional about spending time with her.  It doesn't just happen.  If we are going to have a date night, then we have to plan it.  We have to put it on the calendar and make it happen.  We have to set a time and a place.

I find this to be true regarding my time with the Lord.  It doesn't just happen.  I know what you're thinking, "You're a preacher!  That's your job, isn't it?" First of all let me say that if my relationship with Jesus ever digresses to a place where it becomes a job, I need to reevaluate what I'm doing and why I'm doing it.   While my job description does require me to prepare messages each week, if the totality of my interaction with the Lord is for the purpose of getting a message to preach then I've lost my way.  I have a personal relationship with Jesus.  I need to hear from Him for me.  I need alone time with Him.  We all need that.  But it doesn't just happen because we want it or need it.  It only happens when we are intentional about it.  It only happens when we plan it; when we put it on the calendar.  We need to set a time and a place.

We set appointments to get our hair done, to see a doctor, to make sales calls, etc.  Yet most of us approach our alone time with the Lord as something we'll try to fit in somewhere during the day or week.  As a result, we get our hair cut, we see our doctor, and we make that sale but at the end of the week, we are still trying to fit God in somewhere.  We were created in such a way as to "need" to connect with our Creator.  Not every now and then.  Not whenever we can fit Him in.  Our relationship with Him requires time with Him.

If you find yourself constantly trying to fit time with the Lord in somewhere, I want to challenge you to change your approach.  Stop trying to find time for Him and determine to make time for Him.  Get out your calendar and make an appointment.  Set it in stone and make it happen.  I don't know about you, but I make appointments for all the important things in my life.  Why would I not do the same when it comes to the most important thing in my life? Quit saying, "We need to get together," to Jesus and determine to get together with Him.

For more on setting time apart to hear God's voice, check out Wavelength - Part 3 below:

Be sure to join us live on Facebook each Sunday at 10:30am

If you live in or near Montgomery, TX, we would love to have you join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30.  Westlake Fellowship is located at 19786 Suite 120, Hwy 105 in Montgomery, TX.  (beside Magnolia Diner)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Then God Said ...

"Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light (Genesis 1:3 NKJV).  Have you ever thought about that event?  God spoke, something happened.  God declared a thing, and it was.  God didn't walk over to a light switch and turn it on, He spoke and light became.  Light went from a word that was spoken to something tangible; something real.  God spoke into the darkness and what was, changed into what was declared.  God spoke and the word that He spoke contained the power to become what He declared.

As you continue through the narrative of Genesis 1, God speaks time and time again and the results are always the same.  Whatever He declares becomes the very thing He declares.  The universe is the result of God speaking and those words becoming alive.  "So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please" (Isaiah 55:11 NKJV).

When God speaks, things change, worlds are created, atmospheres are altered.  When God speaks, His word brings forth light in the middle of darkness, order in the middle of chaos, and peace in the middle of storms.  His word creates hope where there is hopelessness, healing where there is brokeness, and life where there is death.  He speaks and lives are restored, captives are set free, and broken hearts are put back together.  When He utters a word, He's not simply shootin' the breeze, He's altering the world in which we live.

There are a lot of other voices out there speaking.  Each one of them demanding our attention yet none of them capable of producing what is uttered from the lips of our Creator.  Tweeters are tweeting, writers are writing, speakers are speaking, broadcasters are broadcasting, and posters are posting.  Yet, none of this world's noise contains the life-giving, universe-creating power found only in the spoken word of God.

Is it just me or does it seem absolutely insane to walk through life with our ears tuned to the noise rather than the words that bring us life? God's longing to speak to you and His words contain just as much power today as they did on that day He said, "Let there be light."  He spoke and the universe came into existence. I'm just wondering how much your world would be affected by you taking the time to slow down and listen to His voice.

For more on hearing the voice of God, watch "Wavelength - Part Two" below:

You can also join us live on Facebook, this Sunday 5/7/2017 at 10:30am.

If you live in or near Montgomery, TX, we would love to have you join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30.  Westlake Fellowship is located at 19786 Suite 120, Hwy 105 in Montgomery.  (beside Magnolia Diner)